From TV star to tabloid target: how allegations took toll on John Leslie

Caroline Davies
·3-min read

John Leslie’s public downfall happened almost overnight after he was mistakenly identified as the former TV-am weather presenter Ulrika Jonsson’s rapist.

In her 2002 autobiography, Honest, Jonsson said she had been raped 15 years earlier in a hotel room by a TV personality. She refused to identify her attacker, but Leslie was named on television by the presenter Matthew Wright, who later apologised and said he had named him in error.

For Leslie, who has always denied he was Jonsson’s attacker, the fallout was like “Armageddon”. He had briefly dated Jonsson in the mid 1980s, and he has said the pair had an amicable breakup. However, the tabloid press was now in a feeding frenzy, “gunning for him” with “adverts for women to come forward with allegations”, he told jurors in his sexual assault trial, which ended in acquittal on Monday.

At the time of the tabloid frenzy, the former Blue Peter star was working on ITV’s This Morning. Several women contacted the media with allegations.

In 2003 Leslie faced court on charges of two counts of indecent assault against a 23-year-old woman. The case was dropped after “new information” was presented, with the judge telling Leslie he could leave the court “without a stain on his character”.

A sex tape emerged allegedly featuring Leslie, his then girlfriend and another woman. Allegations of cocaine use were also made against him.

John Leslie (left) arrives with his father Lesley Stott at Southwark crown court, London.
John Leslie (left) arrives with his father Lesley Stott at Southwark crown court, London. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

In 2008 an allegation of rape and indecent assault was made against him by another woman. The attack was said to have occurred in 1995. Leslie was never charged and the police investigation was discontinued.

Describing the toll these allegations had taken, Leslie has said he became reclusive, depressed and suicidal. “I lost everything,” he has said. “I lost my financial income. I lost the house I built. I lost my life.”

Leslie told jurors in this trial that he would not have assaulted the woman, saying: “I was paranoid, I was aware and conscious of wherever I was. To go up to a total stranger I have never met and to do that is just ludicrous.”

The son of a newsagent, who sang in his local church choir, Leslie’s career soared after landing the coveted job of Blue Peter presenter in 1989. He dated Catherine Zeta-Jones, now aHollywood star, and went on to present Scavengers, a Gladiators-style show in 1994, and the gameshow Wheel of Fortune.

His life today is a world away from TV celebrity. He left London for Edinburgh and a bungalow near to his parents. In 2012 he started a regular gig on the small Edinburgh station Castle FM. He has also DJed at a local night club, where he was known as Big J, and he has reinvented himself as a property developer.

In one rare interview he said his party lifestyle may have been acceptable for a rock star, but “because I was a Blue Peter presenter, people were out to get me”.

Addressing Leslie, charged under his real name, John Leslie Stott, after Monday’s verdict, the judge Deborah Taylor said: “Mr Stott, you for the second time leave this court without a stain on your character and I hope it will be the last time you have to attend.”